Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A few updates...

Hello all! I have a few quick prayer requests, updates and miscellaneous things to share.

First of all, over the last few days a lot of violence has broken out against Christians in the poor eastern Indian state of Orissa. It began with the burning of several churches and the murder of a nun on Monday. Now, the death toll has risen to 9, and the violence shows no signs of abating.

Truthseekers is doing what it can to support these fellow Christians in their time of need. Sunil and Nitin have been on the phone for two days trying to organize a delegation to Orissa as well as prayer and fasting meetings and a rally outside of Parliament to get the government's attention.

The whole situation could really use your prayer. It might very well blow over with no further harm done, or it could exacerbate religious tensions across the country and lead to further violence. So, pray.

Also, in much more uplifting news, Sunil Sardar is headed back to the U.S. today! There he will be reunited with his family, whom he hasn't seen in months. Pray that their reunion is sweet and filled with joy.

Sunil (right) will be back at Grace Community Church in just
a few days. If you've been reading here about Truthseekers,
be sure to go up and introduce yourself!

On a more personal note, I've reached the half-way point in my time here. Obviously if you've read any of my blog you know that it has been a fantastic time of learning, growing and doing crazy things that I could not have imagined doing just 5 years ago... :)

All that said, I still have a month and a half to go. Please pray that I would continue to grow in my hunger to learn, my willingness to try new things and my openness to what God has in store.

Finally, something that has almost nothing to do with anything above...

I wanted to share a really awesome website with you. It's being developed by my good friend Curtis Honeycutt, and no, he didn't ask me to promote it! I really do think it's that cool.

The website is called Just Wallpaper. It's a collection of desktop backgrounds that Curtis has designed. Each one is focused on a different theme related to social justice. Facts, scripture and thought provoking art... With a quick click you can replace that boring desktop of trees or cats or whatever with something truly meaningful!

Oh, and the best part of all is that Curtis takes suggestions! Don't miss it!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Ok. First things first. Mumbai is an awesome city. I loved it. Would definitely return some day. And the best part of all is that I spent less than $10 a day seeing it! Of course, I didn’t exactly do much of the standard “touristy” stuff, but then again I’ve never actually enjoyed being touristy. Just ask my parents.

For example, instead of flying I took 22 hour train rides there and back. My tickets were “Sleeper Class,” which is the second cheapest way to get around. “Second Class” is the cheapest, but there you pretty much have to stand the whole time! No thanks.

Sleeper class. My bunk was the middle one. It folded down
to make a seat when we weren't sleeping.

Inside, the train cars were a bit dirty and often somewhat crowded, but once everyone settled in, it wasn’t so bad. The windows were always open, so I got the pleasure of smelling whatever happened to be outside the train at any given moment (garbage, cows, feces…). In the night, I was able to sleep pretty well, except for when passing trains would scream by with their horns blaring, scaring me half to death!

Just about every 30 seconds (I’m not exaggerating), someone walked through the car trying to sell chai, newspapers, samosas, etc. Along with beggars asking for money and people stopping to stare at me, I never had to worry about feeling lonely!

When I got to Mumbai, I had the whole day free before meeting up with Sunil in the evening. So, I set out to see the “real” city. I wandered for miles through back streets and markets, stopping to try food or drinks from different vendors. I even went to see a Bollywood movie, although I had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying…

A Mumbai fruit juice vendor. I'm sure he washed his hands.

Another funny India moment… By about 4 or 5pm, I still hadn’t heard from Sunil (who was supposed to arrive by plane that evening), so I gave him a call. He told me that plans had changed and that we weren’t staying where he had originally thought. He said I needed to call Nitin (his brother) and meet up with him at the Hotel Oasis. Ok. Can do.

Well, Nitin’s phone wasn’t working, and nobody had ever heard of the Hotel Oasis. So, I had to get a different number from Sunil. When I called that one, the connection was bad and the guy didn’t speak any English. Finally I got him to put Nitin on the phone, but with the bad connection, all I could make out was “near GPO.”

So, I took a taxi to GPO and started asking around. Eventually I found the Hotel Oasis and a few familiar faces. Not exactly the American way of doing things (detailed itineraries, hotels booked months in advance, Google maps…), but it all worked out in the end.

These black and yellow taxis are everywhere in Mumbai.

The second day was spent traveling all over the city with Sunil and his entourage. We visited caste leaders, politicians and even attended a huge anti-discrimination rally. Basically, it was Sunil doing what he does best; using his influence and connections to slowly change the tide of caste and racism in India. Very cool.

At the rally. Lots of passionate yelling in Hindi.
I'm sure it was all very compelling... :)

My third and final day in Mumbai was another free day. I did a bit more wandering, and took a ferry out to Elephanta Island, which has some ancient Hindu temples carved into caves. Ended up being way cool. I felt a bit like I was walking onto the set of Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park or something.

One of the Elephanta Island caves.

I suppose this was the most “touristy” thing I did in Mumbai, but I tried my best to break the pattern. On my map I could see another hilltop with two more unexcavated caves. It looked somewhat accessible by taking a footpath a little way around the island.

So, even though nobody had any idea what caves I was talking about, I set out. Unfortunately, after a while, the path ended up being completely waterlogged. There was no way around without trudging through the jungle. Which I totally would have done if I wasn’t wearing flip-flops… *sigh* Next time Elephanta. Next time.

Some monkeys on Elephanta Island.

Well, all good things must come to an end. My time in Mumbai was over, and I had to get back on the train. 22 hours later, I arrived back “home” in Delhi. Super hungry after being warned to avoid the train food, I sat down to dinner, laughing when I found out what we were having. Goat brain.

Ah… it’s good to be home.


If you are interested, I’ve added a bunch more pictures of my trip (with commentary) to my ever-growing Picasa album. It’s sort of like me coming to your house and showing you a boring slideshow, but much better, because you can always shut me up by hitting “next.” Click here to see them!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mumbai bound!

After returning from Yavatmal, I thought my Indian cross-country travels were over. Turns out I was wrong! Tomorrow morning I get on a train bound for Mumbai (Bombay), a famous port city in India.

Sunil has invited me to join him as he attends some sort of event or anti-caste rally or something. Again, I'm not too clear on the details. As always, I expect that things will probably just fall into place when I get there ("Oh, so that's why we're in Mumbai...").

The plan right now is to take the train from New Delhi to Mumbai and spend Wednesday checking out the city alone. Then, Wednesday night I'll meet up with Sunil after his plane arrives. After that, who knows?

The train rides there and back will be... interesting. I opted for what is called "Sleeper Class," which is essentially the same as my previous train ride, but without A/C, curtains, bedding or meals. According to my ticket, the train I am taking is classified as "Superfast," which is why it will only take 22 hours to get there! Haha...

Apparently, this is how most Indians get around the country, which makes sense, because the tickets were only $10. And get this... I hear they're throwing in a bunch of staring, confused glances and incomprehensible Hindi phrases for free! Nice... :)

Again, I probably won't be emailing or blogging for a week or so, but I'll be sure to update you with stories and pictures when I get back to Delhi.

See ya!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sewa Ashram

There are some days here that make me grumble. I meander through the day, wondering what, if anything I accomplished. "What am I even doing here, thousands of miles from home? What's the point?" Now, this doesn't happen often, but occasionally I do get a little discouraged. Ah, but then there are days like today...

I spent today at Sewa Ashram, a rehabilitation center for the dying and destitute. The mission of the center is quite a bit like what Mother Teresa was about in Calcutta... giving sick and dying people a chance to become well again, or simply to die with dignity.

If things work out right, I will get the chance to spend a week or two there sometime in September. However, even if today is the only one I will spend at Sewa Ashram, I know that my life and ministry will be richer because of it...

Upon arriving at the center, I was struck first of all by how peaceful it is. I honestly expected the place to be rather depressing. Instead, I found it to be an oasis of life in a city filled with death.

Small concrete buildings surround a central vegetable garden, with tree lined paths running through it. By the clinic is a pen full of rabbits, happily munching on veggies. The whole time I was there, a brand new litter of puppies ran around, fighting each other and licking my toes.

One of the Sewa Ashram puppies.

Most striking of all, however, were the butterflies. Everywhere I looked, there were butterflies darting in and out of trees, resting on bushes. Too many to count. It was... breathtaking. I realized without hesitation that I was standing on holy ground.

After meeting some of the patients, that feeling only grew deeper. Again, I came in with the expectation that I would see countless grief-stricken faces, twisted with agony and despair. And I did see a few. But most of the faces I saw were lit up with wide smiles and bright eyes. "To us, this place is heaven," one of the men told me. Heaven indeed, I thought.

One of the many smiles I saw at Sewa Ashram.

But my visit was not without a few glimpses of Hell. Inside the clinic was a man being treated for a dog bite that had somehow become a horrific open wound. I have never seen an injury like it. A shredded heap of bone, muscle and blood where the calf should have been. He was moaning with pain as the clinic's two nurses cleaned and dressed it.

In the children's area, I met a boy with spinal TB, who will never be able to use his legs. I talked to another who had childhood arthritis, bent over due to the pain. Some children were mentally disabled, others had HIV.

This boy will never be able to walk.

One of the young men, who everyone calls "Helicopter," was picked up off the street at a very young age. He practically grew up at Sewa Ashram. While the kids ran around us, he leaned on his crutch and told me, "I am a child of God, and that means I am taken care of. God always takes care of his children!"

"He sure does," I mumbled, wondering if I truly believed that in the midst of such brokenness.

Later, I talked and prayed with a man who was sick and malnourished. He probably weighed 50 pounds. This was the only time that I truly got emotional. As I held his scrawny hand and closed my fingers around his bony shoulder, I prayed. And barely made it to "Amen."

The man I prayed with. The "least of these." (Matthew 25)

It was an intense day, made even more so by the Delhi bus system, which I took alone on the way home. When I had finally found the correct bus, I sat quietly, staring out the window and trying to process all of what I had just seen.

In the end, I came to a very simple conclusion. What I had just witnessed was Truth. Big 'T' Truth. The kind of Truth that changes who you are and what you are about. The kind of Truth that gives direction to your life.

This Truth, which has been shaping me daily over the past couple of years, is this: The world is a messed up place, and something needs to change.

But I was reminded of another Truth as I rode the bus back into town: There is hope for this world, and it comes through the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I saw this hope lived out in the beautiful men, women and children at Sewa Ashram, who were given a second chance at life, even though forgotten by the world.

I am writing this through tears. This, I believe, is one of those holy moments in which God is reminding me of just who I am and why I exist. I am an instrument of God, here to spread peace, justice and life into this dark and broken world.

I will spend myself on behalf of the poor. I will stand beside the broken. And someday, when I stand at his throne, I will know with all of my heart that I spent my life with Jesus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gandhi... Mahatma?

Well folks, I have some bad news. It turns out that Gandhi was not such a beacon of freedom and justice after all. Sure, he was a charismatic spiritual figure who taught the world the meaning of non-violent protest... But did you know that Gandhi was adamantly pro-caste system?

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the topic. Like most Americans, in my mind Gandhi still exists as a somewhat ambiguous figure from world history. Also, I recognize the fact that he is revered as a hero in much of the modern world and as a saint here in India (thus the name "Mahatma" meaning "Great Soul").

But imagine my surprise when I discovered a few of the things that he stood for...

In 1932, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (more on him later) proposed separate electorates for Untouchables in India. They were not being represented in the government, and this would have been a chance to allow them to have a voice.

Gandhi, however, believed so strongly in the need for upper caste governance, that he actually started his first hunger strike to prevent the untouchables from representing themselves in government! Gandhi fasted against the rights of untouchables? What?!?

Later, talking about the degrading and exploitative occupations of the untouchables (latrine cleaning, corpse clearing, scavenging, etc.), Gandhi said, "I do not advise the untouchables to give up their trades and professions... For, a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your President. That, according to me, is Hinduism" (Harijan, 6 Mar 1937).

Once, Gandhi asked a Christian missionary to pray for the untouchables, but not to try to convert them, saying that they "did not have the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked... Would you preach the Gospel to a cow?" (Harijan, 19 Dec 1936).

Basically, Gandhi was a full-blooded Hindu. He believed strongly in the caste system and thought that everyone was born into their caste due to actions in a previous life. From a purely religious standpoint, one can hardly blame him for saying and doing the things he did (after all, it was this same religious fervor that led him to oppose British rule in the first place).

However, if you're like me, knowing these things about Gandhi definitely puts a damper on the usual vision of a small, saintly man committed to equality. I still respect the man as a striking example of non-violence and simplicity, but my understanding of his values has, well... expanded.

At the very least, it once more reminds us that history is never as black and white as it seems. As the world continues to grow, more and more information must be crammed into our history books. You can believe that when the educated elite are writing narratives of the past, the poor, oppressed and uneducated masses are the first to slip off the page.

One last thought...

If some of you are discouraged knowing that Gandhi was not, in fact, perfect, I would like to suggest another early 20th century Indian "hero" for you to look into.

His name was B. R. Ambedkar. Champion of the rights of the oppressed, drafter of the Indian constitution and born as an untouchable himself, Ambedkar rose above persecution to become one of the greatest advocates of lower-caste rights in the history of this country.

Check out his wikipedia page, read about his work on the Truthseekers website or simply google his name and wade into the sea of praise that has arisen from the mouths and pens of his followers.

But remember... Ambedkar, like Gandhi, was never a perfect man.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Good to know... good to know...

Here are a few important lessons and facts that I have learned since coming to India. You might want to stick these in your suitcase if you ever happen to come to Delhi...

1. When everyone is drinking their chai, DO NOT NOTICE the slurping. The moment you notice the slurping, it's all you will hear!!! *slurp* *slurp* *slurp* *slurp* Noooo!!!!!

2. Don't say 'thank you' very often. It offends people! When you thank someone for doing their job (bringing you chai, clearing your plate, etc.), you are basically implying, "I am surprised that you are actually capable of doing your job." Woah. Sorry Mom. I know you taught me to be polite, but... well, I can't.

3. Auto rickshaw drivers are mean. Well, maybe they're just misunderstood. But they sure do seem annoyed every time I want them to take me anywhere...

4. With 85% humidity, you're going to sweat a little. Get used to it!

5. We get a lot of English words from Hindi (thanks to the British). Pajamas, bungalow, cushy, pundit, thug, khaki, juggernaut, pariah, shampoo, loot, caravan, bandanna and a bunch more! Nifty...

Ok, this picture has nothing to do with this post, but I
like it. I found this tomb in a nearby park. More here.

6. If you're a westerner, don't ever pay the first price a merchant says. People joke about "skin tax." But oh, it's real. I usually start about halfway down and work my way up...

7. When going for a run, be sure to remember which way is north. After a few minutes, all the streets of South Extension 2 start to look exactly the same. Don't worry, though. I eventually found my way home. Haha...

8. With no word for "please" in Hindi, many Indians don't know how to use the word in English. So don't be offended when someone tells you to "Just come do this now." They're probably not trying to be rude.

9. If you ever want to taste again, go easy on the green chilies.

And probably the most important lesson I've learned here...

Smiles go a long way. Use them often.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

India cracks me up...

Let me tell you the story of why going to see The Dark Knight took my entire Saturday. It's a perfect example of how things in India tend to be a lot more difficult than they need to be...

I had been wanting to see the movie for a long time, so when a couple of American missionaries came into town to see the movie, we decided it would be good for me to go with them. We set off at 10:30 in the morning with plenty of time to spare.

After an hour of travel we reached where the theater was supposed to be. But it was nowhere to be found! There was a mall there, but it wasn't the mall we were looking for.

Important fact: Indian culture is one of landmarks, not one of maps and accurate directions. The basic mindset seems to be: just head off in the direction you want to go and figure things out when you get there!

Well, we couldn't "figure things out." Wave Cinemas was nowhere to be found. What we didn't realize is that, on top of a building right in front of us was a large red and yellow symbol that was apparently the Wave Cinemas logo. Well, we didn't know what the logo was supposed to look like, so we started walking off in another direction.

Eventually, after getting thoroughly sweaty and exhausted, we gave up and paid to have a bicycle rickshaw take us back the way we came. Unfortunately, with the three of us on the back of the rickshaw, the poor guy driving had to struggle just to get us moving. He threw all of his 94 pounds into it like a cyclist riding up a vertical cliff, but we were barely able to get moving faster than a leisurely stroll.

With time running short, we got off, walked quickly back to the mall, found the theater and went up to buy our tickets. Turns out, however, that the ticketing counter is not on the third floor with the theater. It's downstairs, outside the mall and around the corner near the parking lot. What.

So, we ran down the stairs and finally got to the counter. The two guys with me picked up their pre-paid tickets, and I stepped up to find out that the theater was full. Totally full. Which means that, while they got to go in and enjoy the movie, I had to walk back the way I had come, get back on the subway and take another auto rickshaw back to my neighborhood. Hah!

Well, now I was determined. I set off for another theater in different part of town. I got there with plenty of time to spare, bought my ticket and waited around for the movie to start. When the doors finally opened, I walked up, only to be stopped by one of the ticket-takers.

"I'm sorry," he said, "no bags allowed."

"Um... I'm sorry?"

"No bags allowed."

"Ok... So, can I just leave my backpack with the guard?"

"No bags allowed."

"Um, can I leave it at the concession stand?"

"I'm sorry, but we do not allow bags."

At this point I was thinking, Oh no you don't. I'm not about to miss my movie because I have a backpack! So I asked, "What am I supposed to do with it, then?"

"You can leave your bag there at the stand."

I turned around and looked where he was pointing. There was a really shady looking samosa stand where apparently they store backpacks and purses and things for the movie. I went over, laughing tiredly, wondering why he didn't just tell me that right away.

Anyway, long story short, I finally saw the movie. Other than a jarring and completely unnecessary intermission right in the middle of an intense scene, it was a rather pleasant cinematic experience.

I walked out of the theater surprised to see that it was night time already. I fought through a huge crowd of other movie-goers, picked up my bag and went back home wondering how exactly it took me 10 hours to see a single movie...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Maharastra - Part 2

If you read Maharastra - Part 1, you know that I had plenty of crazy stories from the first few days in rural India. But things got even cooler after that...

First of all, I met so many unique people that I have a hard time keeping them all straight in my head. I met ancient men and women who were there at the beginning of the Dinbandhu ministry. I met young Christian men who wanted nothing more than to sit at the feet of the Sardars and head out to plant churches of their own.

These sweet elderly villagers were among the first to
receive Christ in the area many years ago.

But there is one meeting that stands out in my memory as both unique and unforgettable. One evening, Sunil invited me to join a group of visiting Muslims for dinner. They were meeting with Sunil and Nitin (his brother) at the church to honor a high-ranking police officer who had, in the recent past, done great work in protecting lower-caste people.

I was blown away by how effortlessly they dialogued about the issues of caste, discrimination and injustice. They were fighting for the same cause, despite their differences of religion. It was powerful. And, upon seeing it for myself, it became a phenomenon no longer limited in my mind to the musings of guys with faux-hawks and soul patches!

Another experience that will stick with me for a long while was a night-time visit to a village that had mostly burned down (due to the fact that there is no water source within 3km). Nitin and the Dinbandhu guys were going to pass out relief supplies and share the gospel with the village, which had never heard it in any form...

To get there, we had to walk about a half of a mile through ankle deep mud in the dark! Wearing jeans and flip-flops, I wasn't exactly prepared for such a treacherous journey. Thankfully, the sheer gratitude of the villagers more than made up for any discomfort I felt. In fact, I had to suppress tears in the midst of the ceremony. This was the gospel (the "good news") being lived out.

The whole village gathered to hear what Nitin had to say.

Oh, but things were not to remain peachy forever. No. For a hideous and monstrous illness found only in the remotest regions of central India struck me down. The common cold. Wait, what? Of all things to get while visiting Maharastra, I get a cold?

Well I'll tell you one thing. It was some cold. I came down with a really bad fever that has come and gone for almost a week. To give you an idea of how high it was, we took my temperature at a point in which I was feeling pretty good. 101.9! Yikes. How bad was it when I wasn't feeling so great?

Well, as with most experiences of this trip, my "cold" became a valuable learning opportunity. The moment word got out that I was sick, everyone just poured into my room to pray for me, bring me chai, force feed me a bunch of really shady looking pills... In other words, a beautiful example of a community coming together to comfort a stranger in need. Wow.

I had one last adventure before returning to Delhi. The Indian railways. Instead of flying back, I decided to take a train alone. When I got onto the train, I was surprised to see that my seat was actually this tiny 6'x2' bunk crammed along one wall near the ceiling. It was, um... cozy. And quite a memorable experience. A 15 hour-long memorable experience. :)

Me laughing about how tiny my bunk was. At least I could almost stretch out all the way if I lay down!

Driving back into Delhi Thursday morning however, I had a bit of re-entry shock. It was early morning, so I was privy to a sight I had not seen before. Row after row of homeless men, women and children sleeping on the sidewalks and medians.

The sight was bitterly sobering. And it reminded me once again of the reason why I am here...